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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Colorblindness, A Life: Race, Film, and the Articulation of An Ideology

  • Author(s): Gomer, Justin Daniel
  • Advisor(s): Raiford, Leigh
  • et al.

"Colorblindness, A Life: Race, Film, and the Articulation of an Ideology," offers a political and cultural biography of the racial ideology of colorblindness from its emergence as a coherent racial ideology in the years after the civil rights movement to its dominant influence in social policy in the 1990s. Most importantly, the project reveals the manner in which colorblindness became the racial project of neoliberalism. This elaboration of colorblindness as an ideology and cultural form is best understood through an examination of film during the period of my study. Beginning in the second-half of the 1970s, Hollywood developed its own set of filmic aesthetics, narratives, and tropes that advocated colorblindness. Moreover, Hollywood was not only central to the articulation of the ideology, it also depended upon colorblindness in the New Hollywood era. In the post-civil rights era, then, colorblindness, neoliberalism, and film are constitutive of and inextricable from one another.

The project illustrates three key themes. First, colorblindness is the racial project of neoliberalism. The 1970s were characterized by an anti-government ethos that extended across racial and political lines that neoconservatives used in the 1970s to attack issues like affirmative action and busing as part of a movement intent on dismantling of the welfare state. Out of these struggles emerged a neoliberal notion of "individual" colorblind freedom that neoconservatives, beginning in the mid-seventies, successfully sold as the antidote to the "reverse discrimination" of government mandated "group" rights. The growing popularity of neoliberal economics in the seventies was not merely the result of the seeming failures of Keynesianism to cure stagflation. Instead, the mounting opposition to the "overreach" of the federal government in busing and affirmative action was fundamental in building the appeal of a return to uncompromising laissez faire economics.

Secondly, colorblindness, although post-racial in theory, has served as a tool for whites to realign and reconstitute white supremacy within a post-civil rights political correctness. Beginning in the late seventies, white Republicans and moderate Democrats alike used colorblindness to eliminate race-conscious programs intended to promote racial equality. These efforts have only exacerbated racial inequality.

Lastly, my dissertation asserts that film served as a key battleground for the culture wars out of which the ideology of colorblindness formed. Yet just as colorblindness needed film to form its cultural cohesion, film needed colorblindness to reinvent itself in the desperate economic times of the post-Classical era. Beginning in the 1970s, movies capitalized upon the volatile racial, social, and economic struggles in the decades after the civil rights movement that shaped colorblindness and have continued to appeal to colorblind sentiments for profit. By the end of the 1980s, Hollywood was increasingly turning to historical dramas that imagined colorblind white heroes at the center of black freedom struggles--emancipation and the civil rights movement, specifically. And by the 1990s, entirely new colorblind film genres, most notably in what I term the "Teacher Film," had emerged.

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